Born and bred in Keighley, Carole Rawcliffe is a proud Yorkshirewoman and when minded to do so can express herself in broad Yorkshire. She studied History at Sheffield University and graduated with a first-class degree. This outstanding achievement would not cause much comment now. In 1967, however, she was one of only five History graduates there to have been awarded such a degree since 1952. She stayed at Sheffield to undertake research for her PhD under the supervision of Dr Robin Jeffs on the subject of the Stafford earls of Stafford and dukes of Buckingham, but left in 1971 to join the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. The Historical Manuscripts Commission, as it is usually known, had been established in 1869 with the remit of surveying and reporting on those records, both public and private, that were not legally categorised as ‘Public Records’, and on the repositories where they were held. The Commission was then situated in Quality Court, off Chancery Lane, just 300 yards north of the Public Record Office, and when Carole arrived it was presided over as Secretary by Roger Ellis, a gentleman scholar with a distinguished war record and a delightful manner.
In many ways the HMC proved an excellent training ground, providing Carole with valuable opportunities to broaden her experience. The material in the Commission's published reports was exceptionally diverse both in content and in chronological range, and much of the work undertaken by its staff focused on the National Register of Archives, which had been established within the HMC in 1945 and contained many thousands of published and unpublished lists and catalogues of archival collections relating to all aspects of British history. These provided details of documents held in local authority, business and private archives across Great Britain and in repositories throughout the world. Relatively little medieval material was listed in the NRA catalogues, but the range and interest of the post-medieval material was very wide indeed, covering political, literary, scientific, diplomatic and ecclesiastical history as well as the records of commerce and industry and great family and estate collections.